Cedric Burnside — I Be Trying.
Legendary Mississippi Hill County Blues musician, the Grammy nominated Cedric Burnside’s new album I Be Trying was released on June 25,2021 on Single Lock records. I Be Trying’ has thirteen tracks, eleven written by Burnside and the remaining two tracks were written by his Grandfather, R.L. Burnside (‘Bird Without a Feather) and his grandfather’s greatest contemporary, Junior Kimbrough (‘Hands Off That Girl).
I loved seeing these two tracks on the album, as I was first introduced to Cedric during his time spent playing with his Grandfather R.L. The discovery of R.L. Burnside led me further into the Mississippi Hill Country Blues. To see how far Cedric Burnside has progressed since those days as illustrated by I Be Trying puts a huge smile on my face. I Be Trying was recorded and Mixed at Royal Studios, Memphis, TN, with additional recording at Single Lock Studios, Florence, AL. The album was produced, engineered and mixed by Boo Mitchell, with Associate Producer and Assistant Engineer Ben Tanner and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound.
On I Be Trying, Burnside shows that less is more with six of the thirteen songs featuring only him on guitar, drums, and vocals. Burnside hands off drums and percussion duties to Reed Watson on the other seven tracks. Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars, The Black Crowes) adds the slide guitar on two tracks. Zack Cockrell (The Alabama Shakes) plays bass on one track; Caleb Elliott adds the cello to two tracks. Burnside’s youngest daughter, Portrika Burnside makes it a family affair adding backing vocals to the title track. Burnside delivers a masterpiece with minimal players.
I Be Trying opens with “The World Can Be So Cold,” one of the all Cedric songs. Burnside lets us know in the opening notes, that all you need is a guitar, drums and vocals to send shivers down your listeners’ spines. The guitar picking coupled with the vocal styling changes between the verses and chorus showcase the fact that Burnside is the real deal.
“Step In,” one of the two songs that Dickinson adds the slide guitar, is a heavier, rocking, guaranteed to get feet to the dance floor song. “Step In” paints the picture of the need for divine intervention, “I feel, like I’m lost and can’t be found. Boat with a hole, that’s slowly sinking down. Like a bully, that put me to the test. Got me paranode, and I can’t get no rest. Please Lord, Step In.”
The title track features the most musicians of any song on the album, with Watson and Elliott joining Burnside on the instrumentation. Burnside’s daughter, Portrika provides the only vocals on the album that aren’t handled by Cedric. “We ready, boo?” Burnside asks to start this upbeat tune off. “Thangs I used to do; I try not to do no mo’. Places I used to go; I try not to go no mo’. Words I used to say, I try not to say no mo’. And people I used to hang around, I try not to hang around no mo.’” This is one we can all relate to, trying to be better than we were yesterday.
“Yes, You Really Love Me” goes back to just Burnside, as he sings a love song, hill country blues style. Burnside’s guitar playing on this one is excellent (as it is throughout the album) but this one showcases the fact that he was a drummer first in his career. The slow driving of his drums makes this love song take off and go.
From singing about the love of his life in “Yes, You Really Love Me.” Burnside segues into his love for the world in “Love is the Key.” “A life filled with love, is the key. I wish everybody in the world could be. Stop the hurt and pain, and love again, say sorry for what you did to family and friends. ‘Cause love is, love is, is the key.”
“Keep On Pushing” is a slower yet heavy blues beat that features Dickinson’s slide work punctuating Burnside’s instrumentation and vocals that gets your foot tapping. The whole premise of this one is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
“Got to Look Out for Yourself” is the heaviest track on the album, Burnside’s guitar playing here takes a departure from what we have heard to this point in the album. “Sometimes, you don’t see, snake in the grass, in front of you. A few more, steps you take, and it might, bite you. You gotta look out for yourself”. Slow and heavy at the same time, ‘Got to Look Out for Yourself’ also shows a different side of Burnside vocally.
“Pretty Flowers” is right behind “Got to Look Out for Yourself” beat wise, as Burnside delivers a different type of love song than the others that appear before it on the album. “Pretty flower, And she really really pretty as can be. So beautiful, and I think she really bloom just for me. I keep her watered, and her petals really smile in the sunshine. Her stem is trim, and I’m really really glad that she’s mine. Imma keep on, doin’ what it takes to make her grow. Imma keep on doin’ what it takes, I don’t want to let her go.” This love song rocks.
‘What Makes Me Think’ continues the heavy beat of the previous few songs, as Burnside sings of the woe of an untrusting woman, “My woman told me, I been doin her wrong. I say baby nawl, that’s not what been going on. But you did it before, she say…What make me think you won’t do it again”
“Bird Without a Feather” finds Burnside covering his Grandfather, R.L. Burnside’s classic. He takes a song, and covers it properly, making it his own, not simply playing one of his Grandfather’s songs. Burnside shows off his vocal range on this one, dropping much lower than the songs in front of this one on the album. Singing the song in a way that makes it his own, while at the same time invoking and paying perfect tribute to R.L., “Bird Without a Feather” is now a double Burnside classic.
Moving from the Burnside classic straight into Junior Kimbrough’s “Hands Off That Girl,” Burnside again finds the way to make the song his own, while at the same time invoking Kimbrough’s voice, paying homage to another Hill Country Blues great. As with the rest of the album, this is Mississippi Hill Country Blues at its finest. The inclusion of these two covers with a full offering of Burnside’s modern Hill County Blues is the icing on the cake.
“Get Down” is going to set juke joints and honkytonks on fire, and pack dance floors. And that is exactly what this song is all about, “Come on yall, Get down on the floor! No matter if you young or old. All that y’all got to do… All that y’all got to do, just get on the floor and get down. Don’t think about whatcha gotta get done, just get out there have yourself some fun.”
Closing out the album is one last love song, “Love You Forever” is another vehicle to showcase Burnside’s vocal range as he sings, “And I’m going, to be there baby. Whenever you need me. And I’m going, to love you baby. Love you forever.”
I Be Trying as a whole is destined to be a classic. The entire album is a showcase of modern Mississippi Hill Country Blues. This album is the one that solidifies Cedric Burnside ’s legacy as one of the finest blues artists in the country. One last note I have to make, as a music photographer as well as a writer, I love the album cover on I Be Trying, the simple yet stunning black and white cover photo just grabs you and reels you into this one. Available June 25, 2021 on all platforms as well as on Burnside’s web site (https://www.cedricburnside.net/).